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Brunette Altos and a Five-year-old Wiggler
by Charles W. Dowdy, Jr.

My wife sings in the church choir, so I’m charted with the impossible task of keeping a five-year-old wiggler from disrupting the service.

Who decided this was a good idea?

My other kids are all somewhere else. The twins toddle around the basement prison in a room with an open door secured with a wooden baby gate.

My daughter is in four-year-old Sunday School. Next year she will join us in the balcony; then I’ll have a wiggler on each side of me.

If you have to sit with your kid in my church, then there are some benefits to arm’s length worship from the balcony. Every squirm, cough, kick and trip to the bathroom is not such a major production up there. Our balcony is a place of worshipper exile. It is a place to hide out, somewhere to go if your shirt needs ironing or if you were so late you missed the offering plate. It is not for the serious worshipper.

But there is a serious downside to our balcony. We’re at the same level as a movie screen for the people around the pulpit. For my wife, in the choir loft, it is like watching an R rated version of “Bad Parenting III: The Father who can’t Control his Rambunctious Child.”

Conventional wisdom would have me worried about the wrathful glare of our preacher. Not so. He seems to be a benevolent sort, sometimes I sense a hint of compassion as he watches me wrestle my son into a headlock. No, I’m worried about the woman behind him, my wife.

The problem is simple enough. My wife is an alto.

I don’t know if this holds true in choirs nationwide but in my church altos are bad news. From their choir loft perch they pass judgment on every white shoe before Easter and every garment of linen after Labor Day. Without a word their collective look can say, “She’s wearing that to the baptism?” or “Stewardship campaign: give more money to the church, we get it, WE GET IT!”

After my wife spends an hour in their company I have to slowly talk her back down, reintroducing her to equality within the marriage like I’m dealing with some juiced up junkie.

I don’t know where this alto mentality originates. Maybe they hold some kind of grudge against the sopranos. While this may not be statistically accurate, I have noticed that most sopranos wear their hair blonde while altos tend to be dark haired. Perhaps the altos resent the blond coloring of their counterparts. I think the sopranos are the cheerleaders out in front of the football crowd, performing unspontaneous cheers, and the altos are the ones sitting in the stands -- talking bad about the sopranos. The analogy doesn’t work as well on the male side of my church choir because, quite frankly, those guys don’t have the legs for cheerleading skirts.

All I do know for sure is that after a few minutes with those altos my wife suddenly transforms into Dirty Harriet with a hymnal.

This is not the way church is supposed to be.

Church is supposed to be a place to heal spiritual wounds and make your heart whole. It’s kind of hard to mend your heart when a five-year-old with really sharp teeth is biting you. And my wife doesn’t look very relaxed in the choir loft either. It must be exhausting furrowing your brow at the balcony for an entire sixty minutes.

At least I can take some comfort in knowing relief is on the way.

Our choir director is retiring. She’s a wee bit intense -- or perhaps I should say she’s really committed to her music. Heaven help the poor man who has to step into her pumps. Once she retires my kid could do naked cartwheels across the balcony and no one will notice. All furrowed brows will be directed squarely at this woman, wondering which Sunday she’ll come out of the pew and run screaming across the pulpit attacking the man who just announced the choir would be performing “Onward Christian Soldiers” with ukulele accompaniment.

Two grownups fighting in the front of the church? That might be something my five-year-old would sit still for.


Charles Dowdy is a newspaper columnist from south Mississippi. He’s the father of four, the husband of one, and the caretaker for a slew of animals--all of which (whom?) provide him with varied experiences for his writing. He’s in the radio business.

Read more of Dowdy’s columns at USADEEPSOUTH:
Amending the Neighborhood Constitution
Whatcha Doing?
Tee-ball Daddy
And many more! Check the USADS Articles pages for more Dowdy stories.


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